- Question from Soccer Mom: When do you think they'll have a vaccine to prevent or treat breast cancer?
Marisa C. Weiss, M.D.
Vaccines are a preparation of antigens, which is material that stimulates your body's immune response. Vaccines train your body's immune system to fight the "enemy" targets contained in the vaccine. Once your body's immune system kicks in because of a foreign substance or antigen, it makes special proteins called antibodies that fight that foreign substance. For example, a vaccine against the measles virus contains little parts of the virus itself. Your body remembers these foreign materials and creates antibodies against it. So in the future, if the virus comes into your body, your immune system is ready to make specific antibodies against it.
The difficulty in creating a vaccine against breast cancer has to do with a number of factors. First, breast cancer cells are very diverse. There are many different kinds of breast cancer cells, even in the same person. So if you prepare a vaccine that contains all of these variations, then your body should be able to make antibodies against all of those variations. What happens over time as tumors grow is that they invent new variations within themselves. Over time, your immune system's abilities to fight the new, emerging type of cancer cells may be limited. Also, another limitation to the vaccine is that the molecules that make up the vaccine have to be small enough to get into cells. It is a complicated process of teaching your immune system to respond not only to the cancer that it first develops, but also to any changes to that cancer's personality over time. I am hopeful that with further research, this area will become more promising.
On Wednesday, September 19, 2001, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Stress and Your Immune System. Mitch Golant, Ph.D. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answered your questions on how stress affects your treatment, and what you can do to boost your immune system.
The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.
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